Filed in Science

Time from the Point of View of a Slime Mold

John Bonner

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As we get older we wonder at our impatience, when, as children, we had to wait in the station for the train to arrive. It is one of the many signs that time has very different meanings for us, even over our own life span. Time and life are intertwined in so many different ways, something biologists are acutely aware of. Consider a few extremes: A single-cell bacterium may live its entire life cycle in half an hour, but a generation for an elephant takes twelve years, and a giant sequoia generation takes sixty years. One reason I work with slime molds in the laboratory is that their generations are short, so that if I start an experiment on Monday, I will know the result by Wednesday or Thursday. This kind of biological time—life-cycle time—is at the middle of the time scale of living phenomena.

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